Music at the Arch



This band was like the Pied Pipers of music (except, of course, no one died! I had no recollection that this was the basis of the fairy tale until looking this reference up). With a multitude of instruments, this group gathered and performed under the Arch last week and attracted quite the crowd! (And no tickets for performing…)

Alternate View on Performers at WSP – Time Limits?

The WSP performance crackdown has, seemingly, temporarily subsided and will be addressed at the CB2 Parks Committee meeting tonight.

In the meantime, a neighbor, Seth W. who lives at 2 Fifth Avenue wrote in as follows:

I live in 2 Fifth and face the arch and have always enjoyed the music echoing in but now it has become disruptive. My position is simply: let music be part of Washington Square Park so long as the performers vary their music and do not stay more than one hour so that we can hear different musicians and instruments. VARIETY is what is needed and not the same music like those singers who now are found outside the Met Museum of art doing the same songs over and over. Send these musicians who also put out their hats or music cases like the banjo player, etc. to the Met, keep our park open to musicians who have practiced and come to give a performance for no longer than an hour and move on.

Seth writes, that, for him, the music became more noticeably disruptive (my word, not his) in the Fall. He says that certain performers are “most egregious in staying too long and … never stopping and endlessly repeating their solos.”

At the CB2 meeting last month, more than one performer cited the Arch as having perfect acoustics and, indeed, the Opera Gals told me “the Arch is the spot to sing.”

Seth also believes that “NO MUSIC be performed under the arch for it is an echo chamber that blasts onto 5th Ave and into our apartments. I will defend the right for music to be played in the park but limits are needed and stopped by 10 at night.”

To me, this becomes a slippery slope – the minute you attempt to put restrictions on this and the Parks Department’s way of going about this is bad enough. I’m open to airing an alternative viewpoint. Why any sound issues would have changed more recently from 50 years of performances in the park; what the park is known for, I don’t know.

Villager on CB2’s “Washington Square Speak Out” Hearing On Performance Crackdown

I was going to write up my own impressions of the Community Board 2 Public hearing – “Washington Square Speak Out” – held on December 19th on the performance crackdown at WSP. However, Albert Amateau at The Villager did such a great job reporting on the meeting that I’ve excerpted his piece, A symphony of no’s on Parks’ musician rules at speak-out”, here:

There was only one speaker on Monday in favor of the Parks Department’s citing musicians and other performers in Washington Square Park for violating park rules. The lone supporter was Bill Castro, Manhattan borough Parks Department commissioner, who told a packed audience that the recently enforced rules still allow buskers plenty of room to perform in Washington Square — as long as they’re 50 feet from any monument and 5 feet from a bench.

“The rules are not intended to ban performers from this or any other park, regardless of whether they solicit or accept contributions,” Castro said.

“The department seeks to regulate and accommodate a variety of activities and uses,” Castro added, but he promised that the department would review and reconsider the enforcement policy that began in the park around May. The rules only apply to buskers, meaning performers who accept cash contributions.

Given that Washington Square, the spawning ground in decades past of music luminaries including Bob Dylan, Judy Collins and Joan Baez, has benches along its paths and large monuments, including the iconic arch, the central fountain, the Garibaldi statue and the monument to Alexander Lyman Holley, the claim of “plenty of room” rang hollow.

All others at the Dec. 19 speak-out, sponsored by Community Board 2 and its Parks Committee, called for an end to what they called an anti-life and hypocritical enforcement effort.

Indeed, one speaker, Mitchel Cohen, mocked the rules, saying he was in favor of barring musicians because they interrupted the sound of jackhammers and sirens and they prevented people from getting close to the monuments.

“Everybody knows that people come to Washington Square Park from all over the world to see the Holley Monument,” Cohen quipped.

Gregory Nissen, a theater composer and pianist, introduced himself as Robert Zimmerman who just blew in from Minneapolis with his banjo, but decided to leave because the cops wouldn’t let him play in Washington Square.

Katie Kat, a soprano and voice instructor at New York University who performs under the arch (“great acoustics”) with her partner, Roxanne Walitzki, sang part of an aria from Puccini’s “La Bohème” at the end of her remarks and won admiring applause.

C.B. 2 members Keen Berger and Doris Diether, both speaking as individuals, urged an end to the enforcement.

Berger, a resident near Washington Square for 47 years, said she has visited the park at least 2,000 times. She said she cherished the music and didn’t recall negative reactions against performers.

Diether reminded the forum that performance in Washington Square dates back more than 50 years.

“This is ridiculous,” Diether said about the enforcement, which she recalled started two or three months ago. “First, they said that musicians were blocking the pathways. Then, they said there was no solicitation in the park. The rules are idiotic and the Parks commissioner [Adrian Benepe] should be told they’re idiotic and they should be thrown out,” Diether said.

“The people who perform are the people who keep the park safe,” said Susan Goren, a regular parkgoer known as “The Squirrel Whisperer.” The rules, she said, are eliminating what people find joyful in the park.

A longtime jazz performer known as Black Bobby said, “First they came for the black folks. Now, from the look of the audience here tonight [largely white], it seems that there is equality.”

and…

Robert Lederman, president of A.R.T.I.S.T. (Artists’ Response To Illegal State Tactics), reminded the meeting that he has a pending federal lawsuit challenging the city’s rules limiting where artists can vend art and other expressive matter in Union Square, on the High Line and in Central Park and Battery Park. The rules were only imposed on musicians, according to Lederman, after he raised the issue to Parks that musicians were excluded from the Union Square limits, while vendors were forced to abide by them.

Lederman, who cited an editorial, “Don’t ban the buskers” in last week’s issue of The Villager, said the rules practically ban artists and musicians from any New York City park.

The activist said the hypocrisy of the rules is apparent from the city-sponsored holiday markets that pre-empt space in Union Square and other parks.

Lorie Moody, a resident of 2 Fifth Ave., agreed, citing the Greenmarket in Union Square and “the less-than-glorious, white-tented event in Washington Square,” referring to the annual Taste of The Village event under the Washington Square arch.

Colin Huggins, “The Crazy Piano Guy,” who wheels his piano to play in Washington Square and other parks, said he has received summonses that would cost more than $2,000 in fines if they are not eventually dismissed. He said his playing brings people together.

Joe Mangrum, who does sand painting in Union Sq. and Washington Square, has also received numerous summonses.

“New York City is unique because there is this creative freedom,” Mangrum said. The city, he said, appears to be “militarizing’” the park.

“Freedom is the most important thing we have. If you don’t have that you don’t have a country,” Mangrum said.

Ryo Sasaki, a jazz trumpeter, said he came to New York four years ago from Japan because of the music culture. He has been playing in Washington Square Park for three years, “and suddenly this season we cannot do it anymore,” he said. “I learned to play music in school but I never learned how to entertain and communicate with people. Those skills I learned in Washington Square Park,” Sasaki said.

“The city crated a problem that never existed,” said Natalie Albert, a neighborhood resident for 40 years.

Friday Night, Near Garibaldi …

Ingrid Vollset

Two days after I wrote wondering where all the female singers at the park are, you rarely see any — other than the Opera Gals Under the Arch —  one appeared!

Ingrid Vollset – a non-NYU student – was singing a song called “Wavelength” in the slightly empty, dark park Friday night near Garibaldi Plaza. One of the lines of the song stood out to me “You know you’re blind so when you dream what do you see?” (Okay, I may not have that entirely correct but pretty close.) She had a lot of energy performing there with her guitar.

Ingrid said she’d performed at WSP before but not in the last couple months.

It would be great to have more female performers in the park. (So they can be ticketed too?)

p.s. Why is there no light by Garibaldi statue, I’ve been wondering?

NYT To the Editor Regarding Crackdown on Performers at WSP

Letter, New York Times
Performers in the Park
Published: December 9, 2011

To the Editor:

Re “City Cracking Down on Performers in Washington Square Park” (news article, Dec. 5): I walk through Washington Square every day, and I am always delighted to see the various performing and creative artists there. The square is generally filled with tourists who have traveled from all over the country and the world to see the vibrant culture of Greenwich Village.

Why on earth would anyone issue summonses to people who so enrich the life of New York City?

GEORGE JOCHNOWITZ
New York, Dec. 5, 2011

Thomas Wesley Stern Engages with Music from New EP at the Arch

Thomas Wesley Stern debuts New EP at the Arch

New Jersey-based foursome Thomas Wesley Stern performed at the Arch Monday right after the Mike Myers-Mario Batali ping pong match and attracted quite a crowd. They came to Washington Square with their new EP, “Hope Folk,” hot off the presses.

People-Watching

Commenter Dana Clayton wrote quite accurately of the band on iTunes: “Infectious happiness. They have such a unique way with words, melody and harmony. If you get to see them in person they are all Good Energy!”

The band was a big hit with park goers, from the very, very young to a bit older.

Perhaps they’ll make their way back to Washington Square one day soon.

— Find Thomas Wesley Stern on Facebook.